Active winter expected for 2017-2018

Storm Team 8 has your winter weather outlook

Volunteers clear snow from sidewalks in the Grand Rapids area. (Feb. 25, 2016)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Snowflakes have started to spill into West Michigan, making everyone wonder just how bad this winter will be.

Our expert forecasters with Storm Team 8 have dug through the data to give you the most likely weather scenario for West Michigan in 2017-2018.

THE WINTER SEASON WILL BE ACTIVE

One of the best ways to determine what an upcoming winter will be like is to look at past seasons with similar weather patterns. Years that match the coming one are called analog years.

This winter, there is a very good chance that a weak to moderate La Nina will form in the Pacific Ocean. In years past, a weak La Nina there will lead to an active storm track here in Michigan. Usually with a weak La Nina, we see the center part of snowstorms zoom across the Ohio River Valley. This usually puts Michigan in the snow zone, or at least gives us chilly enough air that lake-effect snow will form.

Lake Michigan is once again warmer than usual. This may kick start our lake-effect snow at the start of the season before wind helps to mix that warm water from the surface.

Graph: 2017 Lake Michigan water temperature compared to average (blue line) courtesy Great Lakes Coast Watch.

SNOWFALL WILL LIKELY BE HIGHER THAN LAST YEAR

As mentioned above, La Nina patterns usually give us more snow than average. We aren’t expecting monumental amounts of snow like 2013 or 2014, but we will likely see more snow than average.

Keep in mind, the active storm track means we will likely have a few thaws. So this may not be a year when the snow stacks up too high on the ground, but it will likely frequent our 8-day forecast.

Inside woodtv.com: Storm Team 8 Forecast

No two winters are ever exactly the same in West Michigan. Still, the data and records allow us to figure out “average” numbers to show us what we usually see each year.

  • Grand Rapids usually sees about 74.9 inches of snow each season. The most Grand Rapids has seen was 116 inches in 2013-2014. The least is 47.6 inches in 1986-1987.
  • Muskegon usually sees about 90.6 inches of snow each season. The highest amount was 148.2 inches in 2008-2009. The least was 51.2 inches back in 2001-2002.
  • Battle Creek usually sees 57.8 inches of snow. The most it saw was 97.5 inches in 2006-2007. The least was 31.2 inches in 1990-1991.
  • Big Rapids usually sees 62.4 inches of snow. The most was 101.6 inches in 2013-2014. The least was 37.6 inches in 1994-1995.
  • Ionia usually sees 52.8 inches of snow. The most it saw was 74.2 inches in 2007-2008. The least was 31.4 inches in 2011-2012.
  • Lansing usually sees 50.9 inches of snow. The most was 73.7 in 2004-2005. The least was 30.2 inches in 2012-2013.
  • Jackson usually sees 37.6  inches of snow. The most was 67.2 inches in 1996-1997. The least was 17.7 inches in 1986-1987.
Map: An “average” year of snowfall for Michigan.

EXPECT SEVERAL TEMPERATURE SWINGS

Not only should you expect a January thaw, you should expect several rounds of brief warm weather this winter. Storm Team 8 meteorologist Matt Kirkwood says that in years like this upcoming one, it was very common for record high temperatures to be quickly followed by days that were so cold they set record lows.

A winter full of steady temperature swings won’t be good for roads. Frequent rounds of freezing and thawing can create dangerous travel conditions, even if there isn’t a winter storm involved. Stock up on salt to keep your sidewalk clear and watch for a lot of potholes this spring.

WINDY CONDITIONS, DANGEROUS LAKESHORE

An active jet stream usually gives us quite windy conditions in the Mitten. This means wind chills will likely make it feel a bit colder than usual all winter.

Spectators planning on going to Lake Michigan to look at the mounds of ice should be very wary of going onto piers. Windy conditions will likely generate big waves that could knock walkers into frigid water. Wind will also break up ice on the lake, making it exceptionally dangerous to walk on.

Photo: Drone 8 over Lake Michigan at Holland State Park. (Jan. 28, 2016)

When snow is involved, wind could lead to more intense winter systems than usual with a few winter storms or snow days expected this year.

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A TRICKY FREEZING LINE

Storms rolling up from the Ohio River Valley won’t follow the exact same path every time. This means Michigan will likely see a few wintry mix days with sleet, freezing rain or a soggy wintry mix.

Storms that push their freezing line over West Michigan are one of the hardest things to forecast in our state.

Graphic: Typical jet stream pattern during a La Nina year courtesy of weather.gov.

A slight wobble in the freezing line can mean a big bust in snow totals. Big storms this winter will need to be watched very carefully hour by hour to monitor impacts. Slight changes in the forecast track can have mean big changes in impacts.

Download the free Storm Team 8 weather app to stay up to date on storms as they unfold over the Mitten.